It was reported in the press yesterday morning that Frank McKlintock was having a moan at Arsenal due to their somewhat predictable policy lately of selling its stars when the transfer window is open, and that the club has been losing its best players too easily to rival clubs. I think that the present 'crisis' concerning Theo Walcott's transfer aspirations is a typical example of this, and should never have happened.
It is clear that the club has not yet learnt the art of negotiating with its players before the tabloid press gets hold of the story; to nip it in the bud, rather than deal with the issue in the glare of publicity. Another star potentially leaving in January it seems to me, and we are beginning to be apathetic, not to care; no real confidence in the club could spell disaster. What struck me as perhaps the most damaging part of McClintock's criticism, was that he is of the view that the new players coming in are not quite as good as those who have left.
For me, this is a big problem.
I watched the game against Stoke on the weekend, and for me it wasn't the same as watching the Arsenal of a few seasons ago. Sluggish up front, though admittedly quite organised in defence, the team huffed and puffed to a goalless draw against a team that in the past they would quite comfortably have beaten. And that's taking nothing away from Stoke whom I think deserved a point.
The new strikers haven't bedded in and this is what I said some weeks ago already - will they ever? Only time will tell, but unfortunately, time is not a luxury for this side. Every game is either three points won or two/three points lost and so far 2 out of a possible 6 points does not seem to be good enough. And not a goal in sight!
It is true that in the world of Premiership football players come and go, but lately I haven't been able to keep up. Plainly put, the passion, for me, seems to be waning. I see new signings that, although having potential, do not hold the same spark as the great players that have graced the Arsenal ranks in the past.
To name just a few : the phenomenal Tony Adams, Patrick Viera, Marc Overmaars, Ian Wright, the sublime Denis Bergkamp and Robert Pires, the magical Thierry Henry, Freddie, Ljungberg, the 'safe hands' of David Seaman…the list is long and impressive. These players made Arsenal magical, their football the best in the world. Not anymore. Not even the optimistic Arsene Wenger could boast about that now. As McClintock says, Arsenal was once one of the best teams in the world. In another age maybe, but looking at them now it is not the same. Even the players look a bit tired. But where have players of this calibre gone? Maybe it's the changing nature of the game, that money rules hearts and heads rather than talent alone that has blunted the choices available.
Or maybe the manager's policy of sourcing players from Europe at cheaper prices is no longer paying off as it had done in the past. He certainly has an eye for talent, so where has it gone wrong?
Loyalty is another issue. Tony Adams played for Arsenal for twenty-two years. Today, twenty-two years service to one club is almost inconceivable, and at Arsenal, it would be a miracle. Sometimes, admittedly, it is not always the club's fault, but other times, it is. However, the club is always primarily damaged when a player leaves as it loses his talent, but also in a secondary sense, the players left behind feel the loss as well especially if the player was influential. Too much change, especially as McClintock says every year, is unsettling and uninspiring and this seems to be the case at Arsenal at present.
The manager needs to stem the tide by stopping Walcott moving away, and thereby restoring confidence in players and fans alike. If not, apathy on the fans behalf might start taking over, and this is something neither club nor the management needs.
Can Walcott staying, if indeed he does, be a turning point for the Gunners?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald